Are you listening to me?
Sometimes it seems the problem with communication isn’t so much what we say or how we say it, but more, is our message even being received? Do you find yourself saying to your partner ‘Are you listening to me?’. Does your partner really understand how you’re feeling and seeing things from your perspective? How about this… how are you doing listening to your spouse? Are you taking the time to understand what your spouse is experiencing?
In a world that offers dizzying distraction, endless entertainment, and incessant information the need for genuine listening is not only vitally needed, it’s hard to do! Let’s explore the art of active listening and some practical tips to help you become a more empathic and attentive listener. Improving your ability to truly listen will not only help in your marriage, but in all of your valued relationships.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is a communication skill that involves fully engaging with the speaker or the one trying to communicate a message. It is not just hearing the words a partner speaks but also comprehending their emotions, perspectives, and intentions. On the contrary, passive listening is simply taking in information and data. Oftentimes we are passively listening when we are feeling rushed or stressed out. To actively listen, it requires one to slow down, set aside their own concerns and agenda to offer their full attention. The active listener must focus on cultivating their desire to understand the other person’s point of view and needs.
Why should I practice active listening?
If you believe you are an island in this world and you don’t need other people, this blog isn’t for you! However, if you live in reality and acknowledge your humanity, active listening is an essential skill to practice. Becoming an active listener will help in your daily interactions with your husband or wife, your children, friends, extended family members, colleagues, co-workers, and even perfect strangers.
Listening well is essential.
Listening well is essential for many reasons including:
- Active listening will improve your marriage and family relationships by fostering trust, love, and respect as you demonstrate genuine interest in other people’s thoughts and feelings.
- Active listening will help you resolve conflict by allowing all parties to express their viewpoints and concerns. Feeling heard reduces escalation and leads to better compromise, creativity and solutions.
- Active listening ensures clear communication and reduces misunderstandings and misinterpretations. A great quote from Brene Brown that pertains to active listening is “Clear is kind, Unclear is Unkind”.
- Active listening fosters empathy. When you can feel what the other person is feeling, stepping into their shoes for a moment, you communicate value and understanding for your spouse, child, or friend.
Not only does active listening benefit relationships, it benefits you personally in the workplace by fostering self-awareness, emotional intelligence, teamwork and problem solving. It can reduce your own stress and anxiety as active listening encourages you to be present in the moment.
How do I actually listen well?
Now that we understand the high value and priority of listening well, let’s explore how to do this! First, can you think of a time when someone listened to you? How did that feel? What did they do to convey they were getting your message? If you can’t think of a time when you felt heard by someone else, I encourage you to imagine how that would look. What are you hoping for from the other person when you are trying to communicate something? Here are some thoughts you can put into practice to help improve you listening well:
1. Give your full attention. The foundation of active listening is being fully present.
- Minimize distractions. For instance, silence your cell phone, put it out of sight and out of reach. Additionally, close the laptop or turn off the TV. Research shows that even the visibility of a cell phone or screen interferes and reduces effective communication.
- Maintain good eye contact with the speaker to show that you care and are actively engaged. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking or attempting to do two things at once will not increase your productivity in this situation!
- Face your partner and be cognisant of your body language. You will convey your attentiveness and interest by sitting or standing in a way that suggests you’re ready to listen and you’re all in.
2. Practice Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Here are some thoughts on engaging empathy while you listen:
- Recognize, acknowledge, and validate the speaker’s emotions. Yes, I understand this can be difficult when you disagree with them! However, for a moment, can you set aside your own feelings and thoughts to see where they are coming from? There’s no guarantee this will be reciprocated, but your chances are higher if you can offer empathy, you might just reap what you’re sowing here. (see previous blog on empathy?)
- Reflect and reiterate the emotions you’re perceiving to ensure the speaker knows you’re attuned to them. You might try saying something like, “I think I’m hearing you say you felt embarrassed and shocked when I told that joke to your family, is that right?”
- Surrender your own agenda and will, give up your desired outcome, yield your own need to be heard, at least for a few moments, so that you can sincerely hear, love and understand your husband, wife, child, parent, sibling, friend or colleague.
3. Be aware of non-verbal communications that can often say more than actual words. Pay close attention to:
- Facial expressions. Observe the speaker’s facial expressions for signs of happiness, confusion, sadness, or anger. Then pay attention to what your face is saying.
- Gestures. Hand movements, crossed arms, posture, turning away from, and other movements provide more context to the words being spoken.
- Tone of voice. Notice the tone your partner or friend is using and be mindful of your own. Try to slow your tempo and lower your volume.
More to come on Active Listening and Listening Well
There’s so much more to say about active listening as we’re just getting started. Check back in for Part 2 of this blog, we’ll explore active listening techniques and tools to help you in your marriage or significant relationship. In the meantime, how do I know when I am listening well? When the person you’re listening to tells you they feel understood! You don’t have to agree…but can you acknowledge and validate their perspective, feelings, and opinions? The solution to the problem will come after you’ve taken the time to genuinely and kindly listen well.
You’ll know you’re making progress when neither partner walks away angry or gives the silent treatment. It’s ok to take a time-out to continue the conversation later. Additionally, you can request they offer you a listening ear so to allow you the opportunity to be heard and understood. Relationships require patience, time and energy and the rewards of that type of investment are connection, intimacy, love, peace, and satisfaction. How amazing would that be?